KABUL, Afghanistan -- Reflecting urgent concern over the problem of "insider" attacks, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta urged President Hamid Karzai to tighten the vetting of Afghan recruits, while the Western military ordered troops to keep a loaded magazine in their weapons even when on base, Afghan and NATO officials said Sunday.
This month has seen an intense spate of attacks on Western troops by Afghan allies, and both sides are taking steps to stop them. The U.S. commander of Western forces, Marine Gen. John Allen, ordered the nationwide change in weapons status for NATO troops last week, after six U.S. Marines were shot dead by Afghans in two separate incidents in Helmand province on April 10, Western officials said.
Karzai, who spoke with Panetta by phone on Saturday, has expressed condolences over "insider" attacks. But the issue is clearly a sensitive one for Afghan and U.S. officials alike, with both publicly emphasizing the importance of the ongoing partnership of Western and Afghan troops. In a message marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the start of the Eid al-Fitr holiday, Allen praised the "capable and professional" Afghan security forces.
-- Laura King
Photo: Afghan President Hamid Karzai, center, arrives at celebrations in Kabul marking the nation's 93rd anniversary of independence from British rule. Credit: Ahmad Jamshid / Associated Press